By Mary K. Tilghman
6:07 PM EDT, August 26, 2013
Susan Menefee and Erin Brice stood near the front door of Relay Elementary School, blinking back tears as they waited for the first day of school to begin.
They weren't scared first-graders — or even the mothers of scared first-graders.
Brice's twins, Sam and Mikaela, are in third grade this year.
"Every year I cry," she said.
Menefee's son, Sam, is in the second grade
"It's just leaving your kids," she said. "I was excited yesterday, but today….
"It's scary and sad, but exciting," she said.
"They grow up too fast," Brice added.
In addition to the tears, the first day of school at Relay on Aug. 26, was filled with energy and anticipation.
This was a big day for the Athas household. For the first and only year, all three children are attending school in the same building.
James is in fifth grade. Maddie is a second-grader. Jack's in kindergarten.
"I'm so excited," said Mindy Athas as she waited with her three children. "One PTA, one school, one bus."
By 7:30 a.m., the office staff was already in place. Lisa Dingle, the principal, was in her office, emailing parents.
Cpl. Andrea Bylen, in a crisp blue uniform, was on duty — as were police officers at every Baltimore County public school.
"We've got everybody out here for this," she said. Police were assigned to duty for the opening and dismissal of school all week. "It's good," she said. "Very good."
Celeste Hairston had arrived for her first day as a third-grade teacher. She began at Relay in January as a kindergarten teacher. Her pirate-themed decorations were up in her classroom and she was ready for her class.
"I think it's the age where they're not babies but they're not the big kids," Hairston said. "They still want to have fun while they're learning."
On the sidewalk near the school, two former Relay students waited for the bus to take them to Arbutus Middle School.
Josh Blasy, 11, worried about his locker. It's a normal worry when you're starting sixth grade.
But there was also some positive anticipation. "I'm looking forward to seeing my friends that I couldn't see over the summer," he said.
Andrew Vanorsdale was taking the new year in stride. He's in the eighth grade. "It's not that big of a transition," he said, shrugging about the move to middle school. "You get used to it after a few days."
For Andrew, the new year means new course work, something he was looking forward to.
"I'm a big fan of science," he said.
As students arrived with their parents, they hovered near the front door, posing for a photo, looking for friends.
Bryson Brendel was one of the first, a smile brightening his face.
After attending Relay in kindergarten, he went to a different school for first grade — and now he's back at Relay for second.
Why was he excited to return?
"To see old faces," he said, that bright smile beaming again.
Abigail Wilkens arrived with specific goals in addition to new supplies. "I'm looking forward to having good grades," said the fifth-grader.
"And being nice to everybody — I'm always bossy, bossy." she said. "I like being in fifth grade. It's very exciting."
Getting ready for the new school year means shopping for new shoes, backpack and school supplies.
Kanijah Roger, a second-grader with a brightly-colored Hello Kitty backpack, was excited to be back for a lot of reasons: "Reading and writing," she said, then added, "friends."
Adam Wiley, a fourth-grader, arrived wearing his blue Relay Elementary T-shirt. "I'm looking forward to my new teacher [Candice Julien] since she's new at the school this year," he said.
Adam was resigned about more onerous tasks the new year would bring.
"You have a lot of homework," he said.
Ali Tahir, a fifth-grader, also spent a lot of time on the Relay Review — a math and reading packet students take home for the summer break.
"I just have two more pages left," he said on his steady progress going through the nearly 100 pages.
Isabelle Dunkerly stood by the school door with her father, Daniel. He had taken off work to bring her for, as she said proudly, "the first day of first grade."
She, too, had worked on her "Relay Fun Book," the booklets designed to help Relay students stay on track through the summer.
She's just about finished it, too, she said, so she'll get a medal.
Dingle said students who finish the booklets would receive medals at an assembly in the next few weeks.
Technology class had Patrick O'Brien excited. "I'm always on the computer at my house," he said. "So I already know a lot about computers."
Patrick is in "Second — No! — third grade," he said.
Denise Campbell, the guidance counselor, greeted students by name, high-fiving them as she welcomed them back.
"Have a good day, you guys," she said.
Kindergartners arrived after the older students were in their classroom. Half the class came Monday; the other half would come Tuesday. The whole class would have their first full day on Thursday.
Andrew Fowler couldn't wait. Asked why, he had a ready response. "Reading!" he said.
Angelo Acosta, 5, brought his new Lego Chima book bag and both parents with him as he arrived. He was ready, he said, and looking forward to "meeting new friends."
His parents were "excited and nervous all at the same time," said Kara Acosta. "I can't believe he's so big," she said.
For Brady Angermaier, school isn't so new. Although he's new at Relay, he attended Relay Childen's Center for the past three years. But kindergarten means one new — and exciting — change, he said. "Riding in the bus." Oh yes, one more thing. "Recess."
In addition to the new faces in the classroom and new staff, Dingle said, there are also changes in the curriculum with a new emphasis on technology.
By 9 a.m. on Monday, the last of the kindergartners had filed in and the first day of school had begun.
"It was a smooth opening," Dingle said.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun